Adam Kurtz: Things Are What You Make of Them


If you’ve been reading my blog for a few years, you may remember I interviewed Adam J, Kurtz back in 2015 as part of my People I Admire series. Adam is one of my favorite artists and writers at the moment. While his work is infused with enormous humor, it’s also earnestly intended to be helpful — to get us to take ourselves less seriously in some cases, and more seriously in others. For his relatively short time on the planet so far, Adam is incredibly wise and offers stellar advice for creatives in his brand new book Things Are What You Make of Them, out just this week. This coming Sunday is also the last day to  donate to Adam’s campaign to support the Tegan and Sara Foundation with each purchase. Just last week, I interviewed Adam about his latest book, which is a collection of life advice for creatives. Images from the book (aka some of his pieces of advice) are dispersed throughout the interview for your enjoyment! I present to you Adam J Kurtz in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

Lisa: Adam, I absolutely love your new book. Tell us how the book came to be.

Adam: The book started with a single guest post I did for Design*Sponge that talked about create work in my own way – optimistic, realistic, and some blunt humor. A few months later, Grace Bonney (the founder of Design*Sponge) asked me if I wanted to write a little bit more, and my sorta-regular-but-sorta-not column on her blog was born. I would write about new topics as they felt relevant to what I was dealing with either creatively, as a small business, or both. I had just ventured off onto my own, letting my hobby finally be my full-time job for the first time and a lot of new shit was being thrown my way.

Lisa: How do you describe your professional self?

Adam: Though I started out as a graphic designer, I now just run with “artist and author” because it best encapsulates what I do, which is a little bit of everything. Ultimately, I create illustrative work that tackles life itself with humor and a little bit of darkness. My work is kind of my therapy. It’s how I process the world, and then it’s also often about processing! My first two books are interactive journals, taking the lessons I learn, and opening them up as tools for others.


Lisa: When you were writing these pieces of advice for the book, what was the process for brainstorming and capturing them? What inspired them?

Adam: Sometimes it was something I was struggling with, like comparing myself to other people. Finally, I just had to fucking admit it! I was making myself miserable and instead of being happy for others, I would grow negativity and turn it inwards. Fucking gross. Other essays were motivated by the outside world. “How To Be Yourself” is about identifying our unique traits and human identity to make work that breaks through the monotony, but it’s also inspired by the journey that many people take in figuring out who they are. I wrote it during Pride month, thinking about how scary it can be to recognize who you are, and then feel confident enough to open yourself up to love. Though the book subtitle says it’s “for creatives,” it’s really for anyone who’s a caring, emotive person living in this world.

Lisa: I have a manifesto for my studio, and one of the items on it is “I BREAK FOR LUNCH”. In fact, I just got back from eating my lunch in my kitchen. Let’s talk about why stopping for lunch is so important.

Adam: When you’re your own boss, either on a specific project or, you know, full-time, every minute that you’re not working feels like a tiny failure. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be working, emailing, concepting, or whatever else that we often don’t treat ourselves the way we’d treat an employee! We forget to allow ourselves to be human beings. Human beings need to eat lunch. Happy human beings need to eat lunch not glued to their computer screen or work bend. We deserve to be happy human beings.

Lisa: Which bits of your advice are you the best at personally?

Adam: I feel like I am good at being happy, or at least setting the stage to be as content as I can be. I struggle with happiness. I struggle with my mental and emotional health. Thought I’m not a perfect, happy, shiny person (which btw doesn’t exist sorry) I am good at allowing myself time to just be alive. I can celebrate my small accomplishments. I set small goals and projects for myself to achieve. I treat myself in small ways. It’s a constant balance and I know I will never just “be” a happy person. It’s a constant climb. But I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and it comes from a place of understanding myself and giving myself what I need. Also, therapy. I know I said earlier that my work is kind of my therapy, but Therapy is also my therapy.

Lisa: What piece(s) of advice in the book are working on right now because you want to get better at it?

Adam: I’ve been thinking a lot about using my power for good and how I can work to help others. There’s so much happening in the world and it is truly hard to know how to contribute, how to be useful, how to support as a true ally, how to lend my creative services in a meaningful way, etc. It’s a tricky balance to know when, where, and how to speak up. For the first time in my career I’m being open about being a queer person. Not because it’s ever been a secret, but because I’ve maybe taken it for granted. Now that it’s abundantly clear that some of the progress we thought we had made as a society isn’t… progressive enough… I just want to be a visible person who speaks up for who they are. One immediate way I’ve been doing that with this book is a donation campaign to support the Tegan and Sara Foundation with each purchase. I just need to be better at recognizing the privilege I have to speak aloud about who I am, and do more of that. I am trying to exist loudly to stick it in the face of everyone who’d prefer I not exist at all.

Lisa: Let’s talk about comparison via social media. It’s the curse of the creative community. Yet I think we all have so much to learn from this shared experience. What is your favorite advice for managing your own feelings when you find that you are comparing yourself to others?

Adam: We know that social media is just part of the story, because we know how we use it. But when you see, for example, an artist who is posting work every single day, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough. I’ve had so many conversations with other artists about the pressure to post, and how posting can distract from the actual work to be done. Do I still compare myself to other creatives sometimes? Yes, of course. I notice when good people are doing cool things! Sometimes I’m just like “ahhhh I wish I was part of that project too!” But then I’m just glad my friends are getting work. Now when I see a sponsored post from someone I follow my first thought is “YESSSS GET THAT MONEY!” I know how hard it is, so I feel joy and pride when others get cool opportunities.

Lisa: What is the one piece of advice in the book that has gotten the biggest reaction after you shared it?

Adam: There’s a page that says IT’S MAGICAL, NOT MAGIC that is all about how creativity isn’t a have vs. have not situation. We sometimes talk about or think of creativity as a magic power that only some people have and that’s just not true. What it comes down to is tapping into the energy we have, exercising it, practice, and growth. Creativity is a wonderful, intangible, magical thing. But it’s not a magic power for wizards only.

Lisa: How are you so wise? (I want to call you Grandpa Adam). Who taught you all this incredible wisdom? Who are your role models? How have you learned it all?

Adam: I’m just an idiot! Everything in this book is me figuring it out as I go and of course I forget half this common sense advice when I need it most. But I do come from a family of teachers and leaders, with a bunch of Rabbis going back several generations on my mom’s side. None of them were any good at Instagram though so I don’t know how relevant that is to what I do now.

I’m also really inspired by a wonderful group of creatives in tangential social circles that I feel like I’m a part of including the amazing, incredible, generous, and wise Kate Bingaman-Burt, an artist who has been inspiring me both from a distance and as a friend for several years now.

Lisa: Where can people find and follow you online?

Adam: I’m @adamjk on Instagram (recommended) and Twitter (not recommended unless you want to know what I think about pop music and bread). I do also have an email list which I update sort of sporadically with new work and rambling personal notes.







Stewart Easton


{Recent quilt by Stewart Easton}

Every now and again I meet and befriend an artist online who lives half a world away whose work really speaks to me. British artist Stewart Easton is one of those people. Stewart was trained as an illustrator, and his work is actually quite narrative in the traditional sense, but it is his choice of medium — embroidery, and now weaving and fabric, that make it so enormously special. He sometimes spends eight to twelve hours a day embroidering, and his use of color is spectacular. His work is heavily influenced by both folk art d by his overt rejection of macho culture.  “The other side of embroidery is its ability to make a stand against male macho garbage,” he says. Recently, I interviewed Stewart about his work and his process. Enjoy!


Lisa: Your website bio reads: “I draw. I sew. I ride a push bike and I like Clarks shoes.” So my first question is: what is a push bike and how is it different from a regular old bike?

Stewart: Haha. A pushbike is just a regular old bicycle. Guess it’s an old English term for a bike.

Lisa: Where do you live and what do you like about where you live?

Stewart: I currently live in London. I’m in Archway, North London. It’s real green here – lots of parks. I’m real close to Hampstead Heath, Finsbury Park, Queens Wood and lots of other woods and parks. So I’m real lucky to have this environment and then there is the gallery and museum scene. All the big shows stop off here so get super inspired and blown away by some real great art and artifacts. I’m really lucky.

Lisa: Tell us a bit about your trajectory as an artist. Where did you study art? What mediums have you used over the years and how have they changed? How did you begin embroidering?

Stewart: I missed out studying for a BA Degree. I was too busy being a ‘drop out’, but then in my early thirties I realised that I couldn’t really move on and progress in life without a form of a standard education, so I went along to an open day at Coventry University to enquire about an Illustration BA. Luckily I had already been freelancing with illustration, had a strong portfolio and kind of knew (at that stage) where I was at, where I wanted to be. etc. So i skipped the degree and went straight on to do an MA in Illustration.

At this time I was drawing as a practice using dip pen and ink and was interested in sequential illustration and story based narratives. My research at this time was in Folk Art – culture, customs and aesthetics, and I had the opportunity to explore working methods and mediums as long as it sat within my research. I tried embroidery and got sucked in. At this time embroidery was really quite different to the numbers working in thread now. I remember there were three main influences at the time in embroidery : Megan Whitmarsh, Kent Henricksen and Annie Aube. These were the guys who were making the most interesting works which to me was super exciting. Now embroidery is big business – but at that time (ten years ago) things were quite different.


{one of Stewart’s early ink drawings}


Lisa: When you are working on an embroidery piece, what is your process? Do you start with a drawing, etc?

Stewart: Yeah. Sketchbooks. I tend to begin with a sketchbook. They’re not necessarily used for embroidery designs, but I’ll have a week or so of working in a sketchbook if i’ve just been working on embroideries.

Mostly I’ll be stitching for an exhibition, or working on a project, so I’ll be working to a deadline. I’ll have a month or two (sometimes longer) of stitching solidly. Mostly eight to twelve hour days stitching. After these stitching marathons I need to kind of re-adjust to normal living. It’s at this time i’ll start on works that are gentle and kind on me like painting, drawing or sketchbook work. Then it all starts again.

{L: One of Stewart’s works in progress; R: Stewart holding one of his pieces}

Lisa: Embroidery is something that takes a lot of time and patience and precision. Where is your mind when you are embroidering? What, if anything, do you listen to while you work?

Stewart: My practice environment has changed since moving to London. I used to stitch to music. I would listen to a lot of drone stuff like Earth, or stoner stuff like Sleep. The slow speed of the riffs in these mirrored the practice of stitching. I also listen to old American roots, and primitive music. I like the crackles of records and the hiss of tapes – the analog kind marries well with fabric and thread.
I work more in my partner’s studio (Claire Scully) more now and she’s a sci-fi nerd so we watch lots of repeats of Stargate and Star Trek.

{Stewart’s more abstract, less narrative embroidery}

I’m just working on a book at the moment where I am discussing embroidery as an abstract. As my embroidery work has moved away from narrative and into abstract forms and colour it’s raised an interest in its ability to connect an audience in a shared experience through its removal of a story line. I see a connection with the Lojong teaching in Tibetan Buddhism and the abstract embroidery. it’s what I’m aiming for with the new works and explaining in the book I hope.

{Stewart’s older, more narrative embroidery}

Lisa: Why do you embroider? What is it about embroidering that appeals to you?

Stewart: There are two threads (like what I’ve done there?): the first is that embroidery allows me to soften a line. There’s a certain quality of line that you get with stitch which isn’t possible with ink or pencil.

The other side of embroidery is its ability to make a stand against male macho garbage. My childhood was spent on a poor council estate (bit like the the missions you guys have over there) and to be a boy is to be macho. Most of my life decisions have been against the modern expectations of maleness and not wanting to be associated with this. Though I had the most amazing childhood there. So working in this medium gives me the tools to be gentle and kind (as Morrissey says).

I suppose this connects with not wanting to sit with contemporary expectations of culture and maleness. Music has always been a real big influence on me and it was really Morrissey who opened things up and showed that you don’t have to be a fighter to be a chap. So music was the beginning of this path.

Lisa: You are an illustrator in the true sense of the word in that your work tells stories. And your work has a really amazing quality to it – it’s both very modern, but clearly draws on influences from the past, in particular folk art. Tell us about when you became interested in folk art and where you draw inspiration for your work.

Stewart: I’ve always loved stories, especially urban myths. When we were kids there was a white lady (ghost) who hovered over the fields, a mad axeman in the woods, and a number of haunted derelict houses near where I grew up. No one ever saw these, but everyone seemed to have an aunt, uncle or some relative who had. So from an early age story has always been a massive thing for me. During my late teens I discovered traditional music and got hooked on the tragedy and hardships in the narratives of the songs. The whole range of human emotions are contained therein. I often use lines from these as starting points to projects. My early work was always draped in costume, sadness of these times, so most of my early work mirrored these often rural, pre war times, events and situations.

Most recently I have become interested in post-war works and world. Especially between 1945 onwards, it’s something I had always dismissed. But, it was such an exciting time to have been making work – it was full of hope and expansion for the artist, writer, architect. My work became coloured and joyful. I guess hitting forty changed that for me.

Lisa: Do the stories and characters in your work begin in your imagination? Inspiration and ideas often come to us in a flood. How do you manage all the ideas and inspiration that enters your brain?

Stewart: Wowzers! Yeah constant overload in my brain – stories, colour, stitch, painting, weaving, drawing, writhing. I want to do everything.

I try to give time to all of these. So some mornings will be spent writing funding apps etc. afternoons drawings, evening sewing. I have no social life as such, but when your time is spent doing things you love it all becomes some fun. Sometimes I think that going to sleep and dreaming is my social life.
All of the characters and stories begin with with a spark of inspiration. Can be from a book, film music….I can be reading and a character can enter a scene which will get me thinking and then from there it will develop. It doesn’t all come at once it comes at moments when i’m not expecting it whilst washing up or something. So each story will usually contain references to five or six different sources.

{A recent weaving by Stewart}

Lisa: What projects are you currently working on right now?

Stewart: This weekend (it’s Saturday morning) I will be working on an arts council funding app, Finishing off embroideries for a show in Portland, Oregon in October at Nucleus Gallery; checking that quilt is working ready for a show on 23rd September in Glastonbury; and starting some painting for a show next May…..

Oh and fixing my loom ready to weave again. See – BRAIN OVERLOAD.

Lisa: What is one thing you tell yourself to get yourself through when you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated?

Stewart: There are two things which I tell myself the first is that when something I’m working on is really not working or is being a real pain, I know that when it is done It’s gonna be one of my favourite pieces – Just stick with it.

Secondly If something isn’t working I keep on with it until it does. All the lame, difficult, horrid, events that happen to us in life makes us what we are and we’re pretty awesome so this piece of work is just like that and will be awesome when done.

{Stewart painting a mural a few years back}

Lisa: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you Stewart! You can also find Strewart on Instagram at @stewarteaston.




Tiffanie Turner: The Fine Art of Paper Flowers


{Image of Tiffanie in her studio in Dogpatch, SF}

Six years ago, back in the summer of 2011, a group of 12 women gathered in my San Francisco studio for a day of inspiration and learning. The brainchild of Danielle Krysa of The Jealous Curator, Girl Crush was an event held in the studios of different female artists’ across North America. The purpose of the each event was learning, sharing ideas for projects and getting inspired to lead more intentional and innovative creative paths.

One of the 12 women in my studio that day was Tiffanie Turner. Tiffanie had been an architect for two decades and was currently taking time off to be a mom to her then two small children. As we sat in the circle sharing our stories that day, I remember Tiffanie clearly, and perhaps more than anyone else there. She was bored being an architect. She wanted to express her creativity & artistic talent differently. There was a fire burning in her. She was gregarious and funny, passionate and determined.

Shortly thereafter, Tiffanie was diving into a new creative outlet: burlesque dancing. Fortuitously, she created a character for herself fashioned after Frida Kahlo. Of course, what does every Frida need more than a head full of flowers? It was in filling that need that Tiffanie’s journey into paper flower making began. Six years later, that seemingly random act has led to a burgeoning career as a fine artist. Her botanical sculptures have been shown at, just to name a few places, The DeYoung Museum, Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boston, The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and have been featured in Vogue Magazine and American Craft.

Tiffanies’ story is both a celebration of the power of synchronicity (how the confluence of seemingly random things in our lives can lead to new paths) and the “happy accident” (in her case, needing paper flowers for a costume leading to a thriving career as a fine artist). But hers, as you will see, is also a story of enormous discipline, devotion and ingenuity. What Tiffanie creates are technically complex and detailed works of art.

Lucky for us, Tiffanie has just published her first book with a set of instructions for making paper flowers that won’t take you weeks. In fact, some of them are quite simple. I am so honored to interview Tiffanie here in my Interviews with People I Admire series. The Fine Art of Paper Flowers is released today. I talked to Tiffanie about how she got started, her new book, what keeps her in the game of flower-making, the intensity of her work  and what she hopes is next for her future as an artist.

{Please note: all images here in this post reprinted with permission from The Fine Art of Paper Flowers: A Guide to Making Beautiful and Lifelike Botanicals, by Tiffanie Turner, copyright © 2017, published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Images copyright 2017 by Aya Brackett}

Lisa: Tiffanie, tell us a little bit about you. What is your background, and how did you begin making paper flowers?

Tiffanie: I am a licensed California architect, and worked in architecture for about 20 years. After I had my second child, Oliver, I was able to take some time off from working as an architect to just take care of the kids. But out of the blue a few months after Oliver was born, I went through a health scare that made me wonder how long I would have facility of use of my hands and eyes, and I decided to do something “crazy”. I signed up to study burlesque performing and began performing around San Francisco under the name “Yve Jobs”. For an art history themed show, I decided to perform as Frida Kahlo, and of course needed a pile of flowers for my head. I did some research online and couldn’t find a paper flower tutorial that seemed sturdy enough for a performance headdress, so I started to make them myself.

At that time, I was still struggling to figure out a visual creative outlet for myself, something more tangible or permanent than performance, which is when I met you at the Girl Crush seminar here in San Francisco at your studio. Hearing you talk as such a self starter in your field of art certainly was a perfect storm with where I was with the paper flowers, and gave me lots of tools and examples of how to turn it into more than just a hobby!

Lisa: You’ve delved into many creative projects in the past. What is it about making paper flowers that got you hooked in a way that nothing else has?

TIffanie: I’ve thought about this a lot, and it comes down to my love of the paper I use, as much as my love of flowers. I grew up in New Hampshire in the forest. I have always loved nature: trees, lakes, sand, moss. They are my lifeblood. But flowers have always appealed to me on a more graphic, visual level. They contain everything I need as far as patterns and textures and colors. I really started to study them through painting as a hobby, when I was in architecture school years and years ago, and became more and more obsessed with them over time. My friends who knew me all those years ago say “She had those flowers inside her this whole time and they just had to come out somehow”! The paper I work with exclusively is crepe paper from Italy, Germany and China. Before I discovered it, I’d never worked with a material that came in this many colors. I’ve been an architect most of my life, and these are just not generally the colors I’ve ever been drawn to. But it is like candy to me. So much of what hooked me in was being able to surround myself with these colors all day.

Lisa: The problem solving aspect of art is one of my personal favorites. Your flowers look incredibly realistic and I think that is part of what is so amazing about what you do. To what extent do you study actual flowers and what kinds of experiments do you do to get your paper flowers to look like the real thing? How does problem solving factor into your work?

Tiffanie: I spend countless hours looking at books, online, and going to the florist’s shop to find my specimens. If I need something in particular, I’ll ask the florist to look for it at the flower market for me. The realistic shapes and forms I get come from studying the flower and trying to create exactly what I see, not just what I think I remember that flower to look like. I can stretch the paper and manipulate it in many ways to get it to do what I want. With these life sized paper flowers, there is some problem solving as far as how do I find or create the proper color for a specimen. Sometimes I won’t make a certain flower at all if I don’t think I can truly capture its color. I also will spend time using a variety of different stretching techniques to be sure I can capture the petals. But to be honest, I’ve made so many flowers now, a lot of it just flows right out of me without much thought!

Lisa: The scale of much of your personal work in flower making is enormous, and there is even a chapter in the book on making giant flowers. How did you decide to work large? And what advantages and disadvantages does that create for your process?

Tiffanie: The giant flowers and how to construct them came to me in what I can only describe as an epiphany. I had been noticing three things constantly popping up on the internet at the time. Peonies, piñatas, and crepe paper. One day out of the blue I started thinking about how to make a peony piñata, and how I could invert the piñata balloon base so the petals could “grow” from deep inside the flower, and I jumped on it that night. I worked on them for several days, photographed and wrote a blog tutorial about them, hit “publish” and left for a long road trip without cell coverage with my family. I told my husband, “I think this might be big.” Several days later when I went back online, the flowers had been pinned and posted and shared so many places. It was pretty magical.

The advantages of working large is that it has allowed me to work on significant art pieces that have room to bring more meaning to than just room decor. I work with concepts about fading beauty, the destruction of our natural environment, about overt female body parts and with different natural genetic mutations the heads of flowers go through. Working large also catches people’s attention more easily, which I think has opened many opportunities for me in the few years I’ve been making this work. The disadvantages is that my work is absolutely exhausting. One sculpture can take four to six weeks of dedicated, nonstop work to finish. It is tough on the whole family as I near finishing a piece. I can’t be bothered with anything else, and that can cause a lot of problems at home, even with my incredibly patient family. Because the sculptures are made up of thousands of petals, and take so much time, I end up with a giant backlog of ideas: specimens, techniques, textures, colors, and experiments sitting in my head, waiting for me to try them. I always know what I am going to create next, because I have so much time to think about it while working on piece that comes before it. I select the flowers based on how well I think it will translate in paper, whether I can make an abstraction from it that still reads like the flower, even if it has hundreds of times the amount of petals it would normally have, and what the texture and color are. It can give me a lot of anxiety to think about all of the things I haven’t had time to create yet.

Lisa: Often when we discover our magic super power, as you have clearly done in flower making, we don’t want to share our secrets. But you have written and photographed an entire book showing other people how to engage in your magic. What led you to making a book?

Tiffanie: I have always wanted to share part of myself in an indelible way, like in a book, and I knew I had something inside of me to share, even when I didn’t know exactly what it was. When I found paper flowers, and saw the response to my work, I knew that eventually I would try to make a book about them. I didn’t want to self publish, because I also wanted the validation to come from outside. That someone else would take a gamble on my craft and my art. As you know, a publisher puts tremendous resources into getting your book made and then selling it, and that kind of endorsement of my work is what I was looking for.

When I started sharing my work online, the questions would come constantly, almost rudely. How did you do that? Can you send me the tutorial? So I knew there was a lot of interest in my style of paper flower making. Because I am self-taught and have a lot of techniques that only I use, I had a lot to share. There was also a niche open for a paper flower book that leaned more toward realism, like mine does, and I had to strike while the iron was hot.

Lisa: What was the process of making the book like for you? What was the most fun for you and what was the most difficult?

Tiffanie: As I say in the book, “it was sometimes so difficult, I wasn’t sure I was doing it right”. This book was the hardest thing I have ever, EVER done in my life. I had no idea. I went right from my residency at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in May 2016 to seven months of being chained indoors writing and shooting, followed by another two and a half months of editing, working truly around the clock. I loved it a little but mostly it was grueling. I couldn’t spare the time to drive to my Dogpatch studio (or drag the kids there all summer), so no one used the living room for six months while I made the flowers and shot the book there. It was like three projects in one. I wrote the book, shot the tutorials, AND made all of the extra flowers for the “beauty shots” (shot by Aya Brackett).

The very hardest part was dealing with word counts. Trying to fit each tutorial into 650 or 750 words, depending on the photo layout, was really tough. I’d have to scan over some tutorials twenty times in order to pluck just enough words from them to make them fit. One of my favorite parts of the process was laying out the book. Because I am an architect, I am good at putting little pieces together to make a whole. Organizing the book map was so fun, and again, took problem solving. I loved finding creative ways to lay out the chapters and what happened within the chapters, even the little details like where to put the petal templates, that might set the book apart from others of its kind.

Lisa: What is your favorite flower in the book?

Tiffanie: The rose on page 75 is my favorite. It is called “My Very Favorite Rose (or, A Very Large Rosa Perle d’Or)”. It is based on a photo of a rose I saw online when I was at my first artist residency in New Hampshire in September of 2015. It’s one of those flowers I saw and wanted to drop everything to make. It took me forever to narrow the identification down to three roses I think it might be, and I’m not sure exactly which one it really is. But it pushes all my buttons. The directions are bananas and no one may ever make it, but if they do, they will be happy. It’s so pretty!

Lisa: What is the most enjoyable thing about making paper flowers? Why should people give it a try?

TIffanie: Paper flower making is just rewarding. I love watching my students go from two hours with their heads down quietly cutting fringe for stamens and not knowing what’s going to happen, to that last hour when everyone is chatting again and starting to recognize the flower they are creating. If you spend the time and you stay observant, you can make something really beautiful. There are meditative qualities for me in paper flower making. I will struggle chasing the correct form for each petal I add to a flower, never quite getting it right. Then 200 petals later I’m on the way to creating something beautiful without even realizing it.

Lisa: Where has paper flower making taken your career, and is this where you will settle for awhile? What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

Tiffanie: My career has moved as far away from architecture as I could take it, and I am so grateful for all the curators and writers and people who have paid attention to my work to allow this to happen. I am now represented by Eleanor Harwood Gallery here in San Francisco, a gallery I have been flirting with for a few years because I knew we could be a great fit, and I just signed with last month. I have commissions lined up through next March, at which time I will begin to build a new body of work to exhibit at the gallery in January 2019. I have wanted to know what having a gallery represent me would be like and what it would do for my career for a long time, so I am very excited to spend the next year or two seeing where this will take me.

But like many people, now that I’ve reached that goal I am setting new ones. My workshops have taken me all over the country and Mexico, but I’d really love to do some teaching abroad. If anyone has an old chateau in Provence they want to hold paper flower classes in, I’m your gal! I also have big dreams of being able to create and sell enough work to be able to go hide out in the woods with my family like Lee Bontecou, and come up for air and a show every five or ten years, or whenever I’m feeling it. That’s the 20 year plan. So far everything I’ve planted the seed for in my head has happened, so fingers crossed for this one.

Lisa: Where can people find you on social media?

TIffanie: Find me on Instagram at @tiffanieturner.

Lisa: You can purchase Tiffanie’s new book here or wherever books are sold.


Alice Stevenson: Ways to See Great Britain


I am so excited today to share with you an interview with Alice Stevenson. Alice is one of the most talented, dedicated, curious illustrators I know. I first met Alice several years ago when she came to stay in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. Hailing from London in the UK (where she has lived most of her life), she has just published a new book all about her home country called Ways to See Great Britain. The book is part visual adventure through her gorgeous country, and part Alice’s own personal exploration of parts unknown. That’s right, Alice traversed her country over the course of two years, and most of it for the first time, on public transportation and by foot, with the goal of getting to know the less common, less touristy parts of her country in more depth. And simultaneously she wrote and illustrated a book about it! Stunningly illustrated in Alice’s energetic, colorful style and written in Alice’s soothing voice, the book is both eye candy and inspiration for slowing down, looking at your surroundings and appreciating the unexpected. All the illustrations below are from this gorgeous new book.

And so without further ado, I present to you my  latest Interview with Someone I Admire — Alice Stevenson!

Lisa: Alice, tell us a little bit about your background, your story as an illustrator, and the kinds of things you work on as an illustrator.

Alice: I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator and surface pattern for a varied range of clients since 2005 when I graduated from the University of Brighton. I’ve illustrated many books and book covers including Maya Angelou’s autobiographies for Random House US and Carol Ann Duffy’s Collected Poems for Children for Faber & Faber. I’ve also been commissioned by a host of different editorial, advertising and packaging clients including Kellogg’s, Waitrose and Amy’s Kitchen. I’ve always had a lively personal drawing and painting practice alongside my commissioned work.

Lisa: This is your second book? Before we launch into Ways to See Great Britain, tell us briefly about your first book.

Alice: Ways to Walk in London is collection of reflective writings about my wanders around my home city, combined with illustrations inspired by my journeys. It’s a celebration of surprising corners of London and those fleeting moments of beauty you find when exploring a city on foot. I was initially approached by my publisher to create this book as so much of my personal output as an illustrator and artist is about drawing in response to my surroundings.

Lisa: How did Ways to See Great Britain come to be as the follow up to Ways to Walk London?

Alice: I grew up in London, and there is always a sense here of being quite cut off from the rest of the country. I’d always been aware that there was so much of the UK I’d never seen even though I’ve travelled widely overseas. I was interested in writing a travel book, which investigated the process of travel and my own reaction to different journeys and locations, so travelling around Britain seemed like a logical progression.

Lisa: It’s amazing how many places all over Great Britain you traveled!! How long did you spend traveling to create the content in the book? How did you decide what to explore in each region?

Alice: Yes, I look back at the book now and wonder how I managed it all! I spent just under two years doing trips for the book, and it was incredible. I’ve been much more sedentary this year and I really miss all the travelling, in particular the long train journeys. When I started the book, I wanted to restrict my travels to “in between places”: outskirts of towns, places that were a mixture of industrial and rural for example. But this felt a bit restrictive as I started making plans so I kept this in mind but gave myself permission to go wherever took my fancy, even if they didn’t fit into this sort of category. Really it was a mixture of places I’d always wanted to visit and places recommended to me. It ended up being quite an organic process. I’d often let whatever journey I’d just been on inform my future travel plans. For example, I fell in love with Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which inspired me to visit the town of Harlow which had been designed by the same architect Frederick Gibberd, hundreds of miles away in Essex.

Lisa: The art in the book, which is gorgeous, is obviously driven by your experience in each place, and yet, the illustrations are not literal. They are more figurative, patterned illustrations on each place. Talk about your process for creating the illustrations in the book.

Alice: Thank you :). What I seek to capture in my illustrations is a sense of what I found visually interesting and engaging about a place. To me, the visual memory of a place more closely resembles an abstract pattern than a straightforward “scene” because its a combination of details and atmosphere. I take photos and create sketches (if possible) on my travels for reference, I then use these as the basis for creating some initial drawings which eventually develop into final pieces. The process is very intuitive, I try not to overthink what I create.  I found with some chapters that I’d see the artwork quite clearly in my mind’s eye, and in others, I would have to draw and experiment for a while until it became clear what the final outcome would be.

Lisa: The book is explicitly not a travel guide. So talk about how you envision or hope people to use the book to explore Great Britain?

Alice: I would be delighted if people wanted to follow in my footsteps after reading my book and I hope that it gives people ideas for travels around the UK, but just as much I would love to inspire readers to engage with their surroundings in a meaningful way wherever they go in the world. I also am a passionate advocate of armchair travel, so I like the idea of my book mentally transporting readers from wherever they are in the world to Liverpool in December, or the mud flats of North Norfolk even if they never actually use it in a practical way.
Lisa: Because you don’t drive a car, you walked or took public transport everywhere you visited and wrote about in the book. What was that experience like for you? Was it difficult to get to some regions or places you wanted to see without a car or did you manage to get people to drive you? How did you manage your expectations on your journey when you were at the mercy of your feet and other modes of transport that you didn’t have control over?
Alice: Having never driven, I’m fairly used to managing without a car. I’m honestly never happier than when I’m on a train, and I also really enjoy taking little local buses, they provide excellent people watching opportunities. On certain journeys I managed to rope long suffering friends and family into chauffeuring me around — for example, in Northern Ireland which would have been very tricky on public transport. On the whole I prefer travelling without a car as it limits your options in a good way, as I think too much choice when travelling can be overwhelming. For example, when I was staying in Patterdale in The Lake District with my mum, we didn’t have a car and we spent our two days there just exploring the immediate footpaths around Lake Ullstwater, which were absolutely stunning. If we’d had a car we’d have probably spent the time driving around trying to see as many places as possible, which I find can be a bit draining and unrewarding. Plus if you’re not driving it means you can go to the pub!
Lisa: Was there a spot or region you visited for the first time that really blew your mind? If so, what was that and why?
Alice: I was very taken by Hull. It is often unfairly dismissed as being a bit of a rough place but I was delighted by it. It has the most amazing grand Victorian buildings, a fascinating maritime history and excellent pubs. People are extremely friendly there and I just felt it had one of the loveliest atmospheres of any city I’ve ever been too.
Lisa: Did you stumble on anything by chance that you hadn’t planned on that made it into the book?
Alice: Yes! On the grounds of Castle Crom near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, we discovered these astounding ancient yew trees that created an amazing arboreal palace world when you stepped under their outer canopy. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I wrote about this experience in the book and it is probably one of the best surprise discoveries I’ve ever maddwhilst travelling. I think it’s these moments that make travel worth doing.
Lisa: What are you working on now?
Alice: In terms of books: “Ways to See Great Britain” was such a mammoth undertaking so I’m allowing myself to take some time this year to regroup and work out what the next big writing project will be. Alongside working on illustration commissions I’m enjoying playing around with some personal art and writing projects and seeing how things develop.
Lisa: Where can people find you online?
You can find out about my books and look at my illustration portfolio at Signed copies of my books and prints can be found on my online shop at You can follow me on Instagram,Twitter and Pinterest at @alicestevo and at Facebook at
Lisa: Thank you, Alice! And folks, you can purchase the book here, along with many other beautiful things by Alice!

Bridget Watson Payne: Part Two


You may remember a few weeks ago, I posted the first part in my two-part interview with author, artist and editor extraordinaire, Bridget Watson Payne, about her recently released book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. If you haven’t seen that book yet or read that interview, head over here to take a look. The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up is one of my favorite books of the year.

Bridget’s second book, How Art Can Make You Happy, was also just released. And guess what? It’s also one of my favorite books of the year! Part of why I divided this interview with Bridget into two parts is because both of her recently published books are really, really entertaining, sensitive and, most importantly, useful.

So I’m back to interview Bridget a second time about How Art Can Make You Happy. To learn more about Bridget, how we know each other (she’s an important person in my life) and her first book, head over here to our first interview. Then come back to this post to read on.

Without further ado, I present to you: Bridget Watson Payne, back to talk about How Art Can Make You Happy.


Lisa: This book resonated with me on so many levels, and I’m curious to hear in your own words — why a book about how art can make you happy?

Bridget: I found myself having so many conversations with people—friends, colleagues, at parties, over coffee—where, when the subject of art came up, folks would all of a sudden start to express so much guilt and anxiety. Maybe it’s because of my job title? Maybe you imagine that if you’re talking to someone whose job is “Senior Art Editor” that must mean that this person you’re talking to is super-duper knowledgeable about art, makes it out to every big art show and every cool obscure art show, and is looking down on you because of stuff you don’t know or stuff you didn’t go see. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I wanted to wave my arms and shout—no, no, no! Art shouldn’t make you feel crummy and guilty! Art should bring joy into your life! Art should make you happy! So then I realized maybe I should write a book about that.

Lisa: As someone who came to a profession as an artist later in life — and with no formal training or connections to the “mysterious art world,” I remember feeling completely terrified when I first started out that I would be found out for being a fraud and that there was some secret society who would certainly kick me out. I have my own theories, but why do you think we have gotten to this place as a society where we are so intimated by not just art but “the art world”?

Bridget: I think it’s kind of this cultural myth. I mean, yes, sure, there are a few snobby jerks out there who like to use their knowledge to shut others out or make them feel small. But for the most part, it’s a fiction. You can walk into a museum on the free day, or into an art gallery on any day, and look at the art there. No one is going to stop you. The art world isn’t actually shutting us out, we’re shutting ourselves out with this cultural story that says, oh, art’s not for normal people art’s only for fancy people. Nonsense! Art is for everyone. Art is for you and for me and for you and for you and for you. That’s not to say that the story isn’t a real and powerful thing in itself—it comes out of some pretty deep-seated societal issues we have around class and culture and intellect and education—and it’s not always easy to throw off that kind of cultural baggage. But we are right to work to try and do so.

Lisa: I also think our perceptions about art are changing because of the internet and because museums, in order to stay relevant, are making great efforts to make art accessible to everyone. Art in all of its forms is becoming more mainstream, and our conception of what is art is also broadening. Art is for everyone, and art can be anything. To be clear, some people (mostly inside “the art world”) find this shift offensive. Why does your book argue this is a good thing?

Bridget: I am 100% egalitarian when it comes to art. Everyone should be invited to the art party. If they’re not then, what? You’re making art some sort of rarefied insider-y thing on a mountain top and keeping this source of joy out of people’s grasp? That’s insane. I really have a hard time believing that we’re still having these conversations about what is and is not art in this day and age—but I know it’s true, we are. Every time I go to a museum show about the work of a fashion designer—which, let’s be clear, have been some of the best exhibitions out there in recent years!—I overhear all these conversations debating whether fashion is art and should it be shown in museums and blah blah blah. And I’m like, seriously? Are we still seriously having this debate in the year 2017? More art—a broader more inclusive definition of art—and art accessible to more people—is only ever a good thing. We would never say movies or music or books or ice cream or vegetables or pillows or bicycles are only for a few special people, so why on earth would we say that about art, this amazing huge source of inspiration, empathy, and joy?

Lisa: When I walk into a museum, despite the genre or period or artist, I am often overcome with emotion. I have been known to cry or to feel overwhelmed, and not in a negative or positive way. I am simply moved. Sometimes I find myself rushing through because the feelings are so intense. I’ve heard a handful of other people talk about this same experience. Why is this happening this happening to me?

Bridget: You are letting art do to you exactly what art does, if we let it. Art is a powerful engine of emotion. When I say art makes you “happy” I don’t mean happy like skipping around in a field of daisies eating bonbons, I mean happy on a deep and profound level. Happy like moved. Happy like awake. Some art is deeply unpleasant—it can shake you up, upset you, outrage you—but those strong emotions can also lead to this kind of deep happiness I’m talking about. If we really let art in, if we open our eyes and let it do it’s number on us, the natural result is feeling. Not every time, of course—some art works for some of us and not for others—that’s why learning to trust your own taste is so important, you have to find the art you like so you can find the art that moves you. Because feeling that feeling of feeling feels good.

Lisa: Why should people prioritize seeing and engaging with art (even if it is intimidating or even overwhelming at first?)

Bridget: I argue in my book that art wakes us up to three profound realities: the reality of the world, the reality of others, and the reality of ourselves. As humans, we tend to be blinkered to the wonder of the world around us—we have to be or we’d be overstimulated all the time. We tend to be self-centered and have a hard time really truly believing that other people are just as real as we are. We tend to get caught up in the mundane day-to-day and disconcert from our own capacity for deep feeling, thought, and pleasure. When we prioritize making time to engage with art, we are prioritizing being our best and our happiest selves. And sure that’s a payoff worth facing down intimidation or overwhelm for.

Lisa: There is a whole section in the book about looking at art without leaving your house. This is important for people who are curious but don’t live in an area with galleries or museums (of which there are vast swaths across the world). What are some of the things you suggest in the book about how those folks can engage with art?

Bridget: Yes. If we’re going to say art is for everyone (and we are!) then we have to get really clear about the fact that not everyone lives near museums and art galleries. Luckily, there are lots of ways that art can come to us. We can order affordable art online and hang it on the walls of our homes. We can pull those art books someone gave us as gifts off the bookshelf or coffee table and actually look through them, slowly and carefully. And then, biggest of all, there is the internet. Going online is your gateway to accessing an almost infinite amount of art. Try art blogs (a few of my favorites are The Jealous Curator and Booooooom), art websites (I adore, and the amazing thing nowadays is that more and more museums are digitizing their entire collections. You can actually see way more art on the website of the Met than you can if you actually go to New York now.

Lisa: When you can, though, why is it different or special or important to go look at art in person? What changes?

Bridget: There’s something magical about seeing art in person. In the same way that seeing a live performance is very different from watching a recording, there is something visceral and immediate about being in the same space with the actual physical object that the artist created with their own hands. Because, let’s not forget, art is a physical experience. You feel it in your body. And you see things in such a different way when you stand in front of them, in person. Not just that you see more details—the individual brush-strokes in a painting, for instance—though there is that; but you actually see the original in a different way than you see the reproduction. Take Impressionism, for example. We’ve all seen certain Impressionist masterpieces, Monet’s waterlilies, say, reproduced so many times—on posters and coffee mugs and mouse pads and in the dentist’s waiting room—that we can hardly see it any more at all. It’s become this boring accustomed decorative background that our eyes and brains tune out or gloss over. But when you’re lucky enough to see it in person, it hits you. The size of it, the scale, the brushwork—but beyond all that: the living magic of it. Suddenly you realize how insanely revolutionary it was, at a time when people wore top hats and corsets, to paint what things felt like instead of how they literally looked. The audacity of it! Wham!

Lisa: I have been a professional artist for ten years, and I am just getting comfortable talking about and having opinions about art for the first time in my life. Why is talking about and having opinions about art so intimidating for so many people? And how can we move on from that fear?

Bridget: Frankly, we’re afraid of looking stupid. We think people are going to judge us for our lack of knowledge, or for having “bad taste” or something. And, yes, overcoming those sorts of fears can be hard. But also? Overcoming those sorts of fears is the real and proper work of our lives as adult human beings. Worrying about what people will think of us holds us back in nearly every arena of human endeavor. And like most things, the way to get good at something—in this case talking about art—is to practice. Start out with someone you trust. I recommend finding a friend to go on art dates with—go to a museum or on a mural walk together and talk about what you see. What do you like? Dislike? Why? Once you get comfortable with your friend, move on to chatting with others. Art is a great topic of conversation for social situations—it gets you away from boring small talk and onto something really interesting. And a great way to get to know people is by finding out about the art they like (and you may discover some new artists this way as well). People worry that others may know way more than art than they do—but it’s usually not the case. The one thing others may have mastered is name-dropping. If you learn the names of your favorite artists then you, too, can drop names into the conversation and start to feel more and more competent and knowledgeable.

Lisa: What was your favorite part of writing How Art Can Make you Happy?

Bridget: It was so much fun to be a writer! Because I’m a book editor by profession, I’m so used to being on the other side of the editor/author relationship. It was awesome and exciting to get to take my editor hat off and just concentrate on writing the very best book I could. And I got to work with a great editor of my own—Christina Amini. I felt like the whole experience gave me a deeper appreciation both of what editors do and what authors do.

Lisa: In one line, describe one message you hope people hold with them after reading it.

Bridget: Art is magic, and it’s for everyone.